The Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) announced today it would give a three-year reprieve to a controversial lease it planned to issue in the Book Cliffs.
An agreement reached by Governor Gary Herbert, SITLA, Congressman Rob Bishop and Anadarko will delay development on the roadless or Little Creek Area of the Book Cliffs, a region coveted by hunters and anglers for its remote character and pristine habitat. This delay came at the request of sportsmen, many of whom see this area as critical component of a public lands initiative started by Congressman Bishop and Governor Herbert.
“We congratulate the Governor’s office, Congressman Bishop, Anadarko and SITLA for crafting this agreement and getting the land exchange initiative back on track,” said Ken Theis, Utah Coordinator for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Ensuring protection for the unparalleled wildlife habitat of this unique part of the Book Cliffs was our highest conservation goal in Utah.
This agreement will provide an opportunity for long-term planning that will also benefit Utah’s school children.”
The Book Cliffs contains exceptional backcountry fishing for native trout in West Willow Creek, a Blue Ribbon Fishery and some of the highest quality habitat for big game. Every year, some of Utah’s biggest mule deer bucks and bull elk come from this remote place.
The area became contentious two weeks ago when with little notice an agreement to lease much of the Book Cliffs for oil and gas development was approved by the SITLA Board.
“We understand the fiduciary responsibility SITLA has to the State Educational Fund,” said Miles Moretti, President of the Mule Deer Foundation. “We also appreciate the need to responsibly develop domestic energy sources. With that in mind, we appreciate very much the flexibility they’ve shown.”
Anadarko, the oil and gas company that leased this particular parcel has been a critical component of today’s announcement.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better partner than Anadarko,“ said Casey Snider, Utah Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “They have been in communication with us from day one and we look forward to a continuing this productive relationship.”
Now all eyes return to the Utah public lands initiative started by Congressman Bishop, a process which seeks to balance the needs of conservation with the need to develop over millions of acres of eastern Utah.
“It’s time to move past the conflict and get down to business,” said Snider. “Utahns know this is a crucial area, and in the past three weeks, we’ve seen their ability to band together for the places they value. Now its time to transfer this energy to the broader effort. There’s no reason that this momentum can’t continue and carry forward into finding a permanent compromise that not only benefits wildlife in the Book Cliffs, but really the entire state.”
Photo courtesy of Tim Peterson Photography.